In his first Mann Ki Baat address to the nation on AIR after returning to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted the people to start a mass movement for water conservation.
His clarion call came close on the heels of President Ram Nath Kovind expressing similar sentiments in his address to both Houses of Parliament.
That water occupies a significant place in the Prime Minister’s scheme of things is evident from the setting up of an exclusive Ministry of Jal Shakti.
These developments come in the backdrop of disturbing reports from across the country including Chennai and Maharashtra pertaining to acute water scarcity.
While there is a lot of talk about water conservation and desalination of sea water as solution to the growing problem, very little attention is being paid to the core issue of a burgeoning population, which is putting pressure not only on water but a whole lot of scarce national resources.
India’s population is projected to be 1.69 billion in 2050, which will be much higher than that of China’s 1.31 billion in the same year.
The demand for water in 2050 is projected to be more than 50 per cent of what it was in 2000 while the demand for food is expected to double.
Even if India manages to feed its expanding population, its growth may not be ecologically sustainable.
Unfortunately, no one is talking about it except isolated voices here and there. In the 2019 elections, no party uttered a word on it.
Intellectuals and experts too are maintaining a silence on the issue with some even claiming that population control need not be a priority as it has attained stability over the years.
The issue comes to light only when some BJP or Sangh Parivar leaders express concern over declining Hindu population or increasing minority population or when they ask women from the majority community to produce more children.
Yoga guru Ramdev waded into controversy earlier when he asked the government to enact a law whereby the third child should not be allowed to vote and enjoy facilities provided by the government. The demand came for widespread condemnation from critics who asked why the innocent child should be punished for no fault of his or her.
However, politicos—both from the ruling and Opposition parties—have avoided any discussion on the population issue apparently because of the after-effects of the infamous 1975 Emergency which witnessed forced sterilisation of unmarried youth and even children.
The ‘Hum Do Humare Do’ slogans and even contraceptive and birth control advertisements are hard to see these days except of those of luxury condoms where the emphasis is more on fun and responsible sex to prevent HIV, etc.
The reluctance of successive central governments to implement a two-child policy can also be attributed to the fact that India is a signatory to the International Conference on Population and Development Declaration, in 1994.
The declaration supports reproductive rights of couples to decide the number and spacing of children.
While it is true that with growing inflation and declining infant mortality rates, young educated couples are opting for a single child or two at the most, the fact also remains that in rural areas, women continue to be treated as child-producing machines and more children are seen as more earning hands.
The obsession for a boy child too is no less demanding.
Some time back, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Centre on a PIL moved by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay and the case will be next heard on September 3.
The PIL had sought directions to the Centre to implement population control measures on the ground that population explosion is the root cause behind rise in crimes, pollution and dearth of resources and jobs.
It sought implementation of recommendations for population control made by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) headed by Justice MN Venkatachaliah.
The NCRWC, after elaborate discussions, had suggested addition of Article 47A in the Constitution and formulation of Population Control Law.
It also sought an order from the court declaring that the Centre “may set two-child norm, as a criteria for government jobs, aids and subsidies, and, may withdraw statutory rights viz, right to vote, right to contest, right to property, right to free shelter, right to free legal aid”, for not complying with it.
Many BJP MPs too have demanded implementation of the two-child policy. BJP’s Raghav Lakhanpal Sharma had moved a private resolution in the Lok Sabha during the 2017 winter session.
Based on a draft prepared by an group headed by MS Swaminathan, the Vajpayee Government in 2000 had put in place the National Population Policy (NPP) which stated that its immediate objective was to “address the unmet needs for contraception, healthcare infrastructure, and health personnel, and to provide integrated service delivery for basic reproductive and child healthcare.”
With the water crisis staring us on our face and an energy crisis on the anvil, there is no harm in revisiting the NPP and taking strong measures, if need be. Only a strong government can do it.